the need for self-understanding

…we are dust.

Psalm 103:14b

It is important for us to understand ourselves. Weaknesses. What helps us, what doesn’t. Strengths, too. To find where we excel as well as what helps us be resilient in the inevitable drama and trauma of life. To find our gifts, what we enjoy doing, what comes more or less natural to us, as well as what doesn’t.

Scripture tells us we’re dust. And that to dust we’ll return. But in and through God become human in Christ we receive the hope in the form of a promise of resurrection from a mortal into an immortal existence. And we’re taken up into a great family, God our Parent, Christ our Brother, the Spirit our love breath.

I really get tired of certain aspects of myself which are not what I believe God intends in the long run. Especially challenging to me is my propensity to worry about this and that and something else, everything else. I manage this much better than in the past. I realize that it’s important how I carry myself, not to be fake, but in faith looking to God to help me do better, trust in God, cast the burden on God, and experience some release from this. And that is happening more for which I’m thankful, but I’m still beset with a tendency to worry. Scripture addresses that. Though that helps I simply realize that this is a weakness that is part of who I am.

Thankfully we find that God accepts us completely just as we are. That should be the reason we can do the same. God helps us in the midst of our weaknesses, indeed the Lord’s strength somehow becomes evident in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12).   If God loves this dust made in God’s image, then we need to, too. Love each other, even ourselves. Know ourselves, and that the God who knows us completely through and through, completely accepts and loves us.

In and through Jesus.

it takes a church

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

1 Corinthians 14:29

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

All we need is in Christ, but much of that is actually meant to be derived through the church, Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). A most important way the Lord speaks to us and helps us is often all but missing today. It’s meant to be through the church, yes through the pastor or priest, but also through others, including everyone. There are serving gifts and speaking gifts (1 Peter 4). And the Spirit speaking through the body, and giving a sense of congruity as in agreement and harmony.

I don’t know if there’s anything more overlooked as well as more helpful to us as followers of Christ than the church itself. What we’re apart of. For ourselves and for each other. In and through Jesus.

character versus giftedness

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The fruit of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”) are not in competition against the gifts of the Spirit. But this passage from Paul makes it clear that without love, the operation of the gifts means nothing, at least not in God’s estimation of the person who practices them.

What I would like to tell any young, budding preacher would be something like what Paul is saying here. I would say, the gift part will come. That is important. But major on character. Make sure your life is in line with God’s call to love which includes living in and according to the truth.

Give me any day and every day someone who is faithfully plodding along with what might be considered a nothing out of the ordinary gift, but consistently and faithfully loves others, and loves God, their lives marked by obedience to God’s will. I’ll take that any day over a person who has an amazing gift, but is a bit fast and loose when it comes to character. The fruit of the Spirit is the goal in our lives toward Christ-likeness. The gifts of the Spirit are meant to help us move that direction. In and through Jesus.

the primacy of love

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The story goes that late in Aquina’s life he had an experience and said that his writings were worthless. Of course that wasn’t the case. But evidently he picked up something of what Paul was referring to here. He had something of a seeing or new sense of the God who is love.

We have revelation from God in Scripture, Christ and the gospel. We shouldn’t discount what God has given us in terms of truth. These words from Paul are in the midst of a letter. Paul certainly had plenty of knowledge from God and he had to make that clear to this very church. But here we read that it’s worthless if not motivated by love, specifically God’s love in Christ given by the Spirit.

To know that our knowledge is limited is an important, essential part of knowing. Whatever knowledge we have is completely a gift from God. And it’s in terms of love. The love of God in Christ is what’s behind the gift of knowledge along with all the other gifts. And the gifts are given primarily for the good of others.

What edifies others is love, but it’s a love that is joined to truth. Knowledge by itself puffs one up with pride. It’s always and forever to be motivated by love. And you can’t separate love from truth and still actually love. Love doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

Perhaps what this is saying to me right now more than anything is that I need to humbly hold to whatever gift I might have, as well as receive from the gift of others, doing that in love. Love it the point of all. Too often, I’m afraid we think of what we know as absolute and complete, an end in itself. Love is needed to inform and form what knowledge we have. And love helps us to hold to what gift and knowledge we have with the utmost humility. Knowing it is in part; we never have it all in this life. The gifts are given to us all by God out of his love and meant to be helpful to ourselves and to each other in that same love. In and through Jesus.

characteristics of love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Paul, in between writing about spiritual gifts in the church, actually makes something higher than any and all of the spiritual gifts, as important as they are in their place.

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1a

And Paul makes the point that without that love, the gifts themselves are null and void.

We should understand Paul’s description of love as what comes from a heart of love, not as something we have to work up ourselves. At the same time we need to be aware when our lives don’t match. This list helps us know whether or not we’re on track. And if we have God’s love in our hearts, we will find these characteristics in our lives. In our weakness amidst the factors of living as not totally together in a broken world, we will sometimes contradict this. We then need to repent, get back on track, and seek to grow in God’s love, so that these characteristics will more and more become the norm of our lives through the Spirit’s working. In and through Jesus.

 

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

saved for good works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

This is a classical salvation verse quoted many times, and used to show that our works don’t save us, but faith. Of course the faith that saves us works, as James clearly teaches. James seems to contradict Paul in that he says we are justified by works, whereas Paul says we’re not justified by works, but by faith. I think the point James was making is that our faith is proved genuine by our works. Paul really says the same thing if you read his letters. And this passage points that direction as well. We are actually created in Christ Jesus for good works. The point of the Greek word, peripateō (περιπατήσωμεν), likely means that good works are our way of life in Christ Jesus.

The good works we do are as unique as the new creations, indeed handiwork each one of us are in Christ Jesus. We are all created uniquely different, like different snowflakes. And new creation is the same. Many of us may do the same things, but they have our own signature on them, exactly how we do them. And we also do different things. Some are adept with hammers and nails, others at playing music, still others in solving problems, and the list goes on and on. There are a number of spiritual gifts listed in different places in scripture (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4), all involving good works. Whatever our hand finds to do, we’re to do it wholeheartedly and for the Lord as a blessing to others.

Of course what we do is all because of God’s gift to us. We can and should develop what has been given to us, but in the end we have to recognize that it’s 100% a gift from God. So that God gets all the glory as we give him thanks for what we can do, actually often enjoy doing, and with the wonder that it can be a blessing to others.

What we do proceeds from who we are. And who we are can be a mix of good and bad due to creation and sin, true for us at least much of the time even as Christians. We must be humble, knowing whatever is good comes from God. The desire to do so, and the actual work itself. In and through Jesus.

character first and one might say, last

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13

One of the things that has been indelibly impressed upon me during my years at Our Daily Bread Ministries, through the example of the leadership during my time there, Mart and Rick DeHaan, is simply the importance of character, and specifically a Jesus-likeness marked by humility and love.

There are the gifts in scripture, called the charisms. And they have their place for sure. And all believers have their gift from God, which probably consists of specific gifts. And that’s important, and a part of it all.

But without a change of heart and life that is characterized by love in an underlying faith, any giftedness is essentially worthless, as we see above. Jesus made that plain as well:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

I would rather be around mourners and the broken who love, rather than those who are marked with greatness in what they do, but don’t love. For some it seems like it’s all about what they’re doing, instead of the love with which they’re doing it with.

When one considers the New Testament, the entire Bible for that matter, and life, it shouldn’t be a question of either/or, but and/both. We need the gifts God gives us as humans in creation, and the restored humanity in Jesus in new creation, for sure. But unless love accompanies them, they end up doing more harm than good, often feeding off the pride of those who have them, and that of their followers.

While I think I’ve come surely a long way over the years, though it can be so incremental, that one can at times only hope such is the case, I know also that I have plenty of room to grow. Of course with others into the maturity of the stature of the fullness of Christ is no small order indeed. I can withhold love at times, which isn’t Jesus-like. Being aware of such sins is half the battle in finding the change in Jesus that we need.

The gifts of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit, as well. In fact that fruit marking whatever gifts we have is what we all need, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

 

strangers in the body

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12

One of the great tragedies of the church is the clergy-laity divide. I heard that it took place around the fourth century. What I do understand about that is that a monastic life (which actually appeals to me, of course in a married order) was held to be more sacred than the common, ordinary life. Therefore the sacred/secular divide. And from that you hear people say they are “called to the ministry.”

Actually I agree with some of that language, but disagree with much of its application. And it may to a large extent be my fault, but I have found body practice in the church and in Christian circles mostly nonexistent, or probably more accurately, like a hard shell to break through in my own experience. I’m not much of a believer in the body of Christ.

Call that hurt, or whatever on my part, but I don’t speak conceptually, but experientially. That is the impression I receive from living in the real world.

There are two problems up front that I at least sense. First of all there seems to be the impression that there are just a few, certain people set apart to do “the work of the ministry.” They are the movers and shakers, and the rest follow them. The other problem I see is the emphasis on the individual at the expense of the community. Christianity is often marked in regard to “my relationship with God.” It’s all about me, and what I’m going to do, or not do today. While there’s plenty of vital truth in that, if it’s the only emphasis, than we miss the greater emphasis of scripture, that we are all in this together, that each one of us has a vital part and role to play.

I don’t believe in any of this, actually. Because I feel and think that largely I’ve been left behind. And I don’t think I was the target at all. I think instead that my experience is simply a symptom of the kind of Christianity which is accepted and practiced. Commitment to the body, and to each other is simply not practiced, or not practiced well. Small groups might help, and there is surely good in them. But they might not help much in this at all, and may even promote the status quo, keeping those more restless, in their place. I am grateful right now along with my wife to be part of a small church group which is an exception to that rule. Wonderfully led, and we’re all very much a part of it.

Before we can judge someone, or begin to think we have their measure, if indeed such a thing is possible, we need to get to know them. But there isn’t that commitment in the Christianity I see, and have normally experienced over the decades. No, I don’t believe in the body of Christ if I look at what I’ve witnessed. In a certain way I can imagine and see it. But not in the way scripture tells it. An ongoing lament for me. We miss out when we don’t put an emphasis on each and every one, and are not sufficiently committed to each other in and through Jesus. Not just to “my relationship with God” and how that carries out in “my daily walk,” but to the entire body of Christ, to each other in Christ.

The Spirit will help us do this. And won’t leave us at rest until we do. Which means, I’m afraid, we won’t be much at rest in a lot of places and spaces which name the name of our Lord.

the members of the body of Christ for the love of each other and of the world

Yesterday Father Michael in his stirring, indepth sermon pointed out that the gifts given by the Spirit to the church are not for show, but for love. This is the best succinct way I’ve heard in understanding 1 Corinthians 13 in the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14. And that it’s the church, not unusually gifted individuals in the church, which together is the body of Christ. The church together manifests Christ. Instead, we often read scripture as if it has to do with indviduals. I think it can be speaking as to individuals, but that’s always in a larger context, namely as members together of Christ and his body, the church. It’s never only about us, strictly speaking. Though the Lord deals with us individually, as well as together, and I think our relationship to God is both personal and in community.

And Father Michael, among other good things he shared, also helped us see that the gifts of the Spirit should never be placed against the fruit of the Spirit, as if the two are practically opposed to each other. Some, because of how gifts are often talked about and seemingly practiced would downplay the spiritual gifts and talk more or less completely about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26). But both are needed in the church, of course the gifts being nothing apart from love. But love being expressed through the humble use of what we are given.

I can see what Father Michael is saying. Though our church plant at this point is small, yet even in this handful of people I can see Christ in us together, and in the various gifts that we have as a church. And the love among us is quite evident. Father Michael leads the way in this, his wife Amy also being an example to us of what members of Christ’s body are to be like, and how that works among the members together. And the emphasis at our church has always been that we’re on mission. It’s never just about us, but about sharing Christ and the gospel to the world, not only in the proclamation of the gospel, but in works of love.

And so we not only follow Christ as individuals, but we do so together as his body in love, in and for the world.